Let’s start with the good: The Last Witch Hunter isn’t as bad as I, Frankenstein. Oh, you want a longer list? Oh, ok… Hm… The visual effects are pretty decent in this world full of magic and glowing eyes. What else… Vin Diesel is quite an imposing figure holding a blazing sword below a stylistic choice that provides quite the debate as to whether it’s cool or super off putting when place on a head that is well known for being bare. The verdict is out on that one, but not on the movie.
The movie begins with a group of black-cloaked warriors trudging through the bleached out landscape of the North, looking for the colossal plague tree grown from the magic of an extremely powerful witch. She has caused the death and destruction of so many families, including that of Vin Diesel’s Kaulder, and he is ready to do his Diesel fueled fighting through anyone and everyone who gets in the path of his vengeance.
With the undeniable allusion to The Night’s Watch (spurred on by the knowledge that Rose Leslie is the lady of the film), The Last Witch Hunter inceptions the audience with the lies that something great is about to unfold. Diesel does his thing with his distinctive hair and flaming weapon, flashbacks start seeping into Kaulder’s mind like something out of Gladiator, so it’s actually off to a strong start considering my expectations. But then the time jump happens to the present day where weird speech patterns and disjointed interactions stand out no matter how adorable Diesel’s smiling face manages to be.
The main problem I have with The Last Witch Hunter is the writing, specifically in concern with the character development. Other than Kaulder, and maybe Michael Caine’s Dolan 36th to a small extent, this department is severely lacking. We pick up Kaulder’s story with the retirement of his handler, as the burden of recording the Witch Hunter’s legend is passed from the 36th Dolan to the 37th. The ever-youthful face of Elijah Wood, combined with his smaller stature, is quite the contrast to Diesels overpowering presence, but a relationship such as that of Bruce Willis and Justin Long from Live Free or Die Hard, or more comparable, Keanu Reeves and Shia LaBeouf in Constantine, never forms. I’ve always loved these antagonistic bromances when done right, and this is definitely not an example of when that happens. Instead, just as quickly as Wood is introduced, he is replaced by Rose Leslie.
Leslie’s modern day witch, Chloe, is a companion equally deserving of being a Witch Hunter’s number two in stories like this, but the interactions between these two are rather weak from the start. Chloe starts off resenting the Witch Hunter for her assumptions about him, along for the grander scale angst towards the general populace’s lack of understanding and acceptance of the idea of the witch, throwing out the typical line about women being killed in Salem due to any and all accusations of witchcraft. But suddenly during a break between shouts of accusation she has decided to throw away what we do know about her to fight by Diesel’s side. The development just isn’t there, and though Wood is treated far worse as a simple plot device to come back in at the tail end of the story, Leslie isn’t given much more substance during her far greater amount of screen time.
The story these characters are written in service of isn’t any stronger than those that make it up, and I can’t help focusing on the idea that the whole thing hinges on a HUGE assumption that isn’t the logical one to make in the first place. Then again, it’s possible I missed something that certain flashbacks were trying to hint at, but I really don’t think this is the case. Instead of taking the blame myself I am more than willing to hurl the fault towards the shortcomings of the storytelling itself.
In short, The Last Witch Hunter suffers from poor writing in story and character, and though there are some interesting aspects built in through Kaulder, the power that Diesel wields just isn’t strong enough to carry the burden placed on his shoulders. I know, you’d think those shoulders could carry anything, but not this.